Gifts come in many forms. A simple gift is the gift of time: the difference between an indecipherable scrawled name at the bottom of a Christmas card and a few thoughtful, well chosen words that really mean something. The difference between the unwanted pair of socks or a present that has actually been chosen with your personality and interests in mind.
Gifts are an important part of building long-term friendships. The recipient of a gift should feel that the giver likes and respects them as an individual.
This builds an emotional bond which engenders a sense of loyalty. The recipient feels a desire to reciprocate the gift to the giver - which, if it has the same level of thoughtfulness (though not necessarily price), reinforces that bond. A bond which means that both the giver and receiver will value each other as their relationship continues to develop.
There are parallels between this and the relationship that advertising (and the brand that it is for) should have with a consumer. The nature of the advertising gift can vary - it might be a piece of interesting information, a moment of mirth, a bit of flattery or an intelligent comment that makes the receiver think in a different way. At its most successful, it might even provide a minor form of social currency - "Did you see that ad for X last night?"
Whatever the nature of the gift, the receiver should feel (consciously or subconsciously) that he should return the favour in the same way. The recipient should feel inclined to reward the brand with his preferences, perhaps to be more open to further communication approaches, even to feel a basic sense of loyalty.
This sounds simple, but of course it is difficult to do. Advertising has always had to contend with the fact that it is usually an unwanted intrusion into our lives.
People do not watch TV to see the ads, and they don't leap into their cars to see the latest poster or open a magazine to read the long copy.
So the giver has a reluctant receiver on their hands. And the givers are failing to address this. There is plenty of evidence of active avoidance of advertising (a couple of years ago, Lowe's 'Ad Avoiders' survey showed that anything up to 50% of people in the UK avoided commercial messages in some way, at some time). And in a world of 'smart' digital video recorders such as TiVO, this trend is set to increase.
There are too many advertisers who are becoming less successful in engaging consumers and providing them with something of a gift-like value. This is despite plenty of evidence that high quality advertising that engages and rewards can still create profound and positive effects on the way that consumers perceive brands. Evidence that we celebrated a few months ago at the Marketing Society Awards and again just a few weeks ago at the IPA Effectiveness Awards.
So at this time of Christmas cheer, perhaps we should all be thinking about ourselves as givers and our consumers as receivers. The more pleasurable we can make our gifts, the more successful we'll all be in the long term.